The instrument veena has strings near-mimicking the human voice with a hoary tradition. It was this single Indian instrument that moulded three different schools — the Mysore, Thanjavur and Andhra baani (styles) — in Carnatic instrumental. It’s importance increased when iconic artistes such as Veena Seshanna and Veena Venkatagiriappa followed by Veena Doreswamy Iyengar received royal patronage at the Mysore court. In an age when most of the other Vainikas had started using the contact microphone Doreswamy Iyengar remained a purist and stuck to the ‘acoustic’ Veena. His Mysore baani is a distinctive style marked by signature movements for which accolades poured in during his career.
“This is the Birth Centenary Year of my father Doreswamy Iyengar and there are distinguished aspects to his persona that we would like to have on record. In our tribute we thought there would be no better way than bringing in a biographical play on him by the well-known troupe Kala Gangothri. Stalwarts like BV Rajaram will direct the show with playwright as Dr. N. Raghu, Assistant Director of Programmes - Akashavani giving us the storyline. This would be staged on March 7 at the Chowdiah Memorial Hall,” says D Balakrishna, vainika and son of Iyengar.
Young Doreswamy Iyengar graduated early from the practice room to the concert platform. At the age of 12, he made his debut at the Mysore Palace. When the fastidious Maharaja, Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar singled out Doreswamy for commendation, his guru Veena Venkatagiriappa was elated. “Make sure he is properly trained, as this boy will bring a name to Mysore,” the Maharaja's instructions to guru Venkatagiriappa was almost a command. Doreswamy was soon appointed a junior vidwan in the Palace orchestra. That was when he passed the examination in advanced theory of Western music conducted by the Trinity College of Music, London. He was barely 16 when he was nominated asthana vidwan (court musician) in the Mysore State, one of the youngest to win the honour.
As the boy made quick strides for himself, an impressed senior violin artist T Chowdiah insisted that Doreswamy accompany him in his violin recitals. “My father always said those were the first duets of the violin and the veena. But soon the violin vidwan made my father sit centre-stage and moved to be his accompanist,” recalls Balakrishna.
Later Iyengar was to play jugalbandis with other violinists, including Lalgudi G Jayaraman, TN Krishnan and MS Gopalakrishnan, and with the vocalists M Balamuralikrishna and Palakkad KV Narayanaswami. He also performed duets with Hindustani artists Mallikarjun Mansur, Ali Akbar Khan and Amjad Ali Khan.
Although Doreswamy Iyengar’s tonal purity along with his raga expanse and swaraprastara was hailed, he rendered even the lighter pieces with dignity. How much of his music can be translated on stage is what BV Rajaram explains. “We will have 20 people bringing his biography through, with bits of music trickling in often. The best is the live music performers as Balakrishna’s students have come in to take these roles,” he says.
Rajaram is happy to take up this challenge as Kala Gangothri, he says, has presented magnum opus shows as Mukhya Mantri, Mysore Mallige and Mukkajjiya Kanasugalu. “ Iyengar’s life itself is so interesting that it’s not just his own veena play, but his creative abilities as a composer, another chapter of his life, has to be showcased. Nearly two dozen of the musical operas of Pu Ti Narasimhachar is his contribution. Their friendship is one of the main aspects to the play that is highlighted. This is apart from his majestic and yet simple persona that underlined his focus and determination to take the Indian instrument to greater heights,” says Rajaram.
The 90-minutes play has the storyline from Dr. N Raghu’s lines who has adapted his work from the Kannada original book on Iyengar ‘Veeneya Neralinalli’ authored by Bharati Kasaragodu. “Bharati’s work is authentic and exhaustive, it was a pleasure to have the interesting episodes culled out for bringing in the dramatic elements,” says Raghu who has also lent his voice for serialising the book in AIR in 54 episodes. “Stage is a bigger canvas but we had to take it across more skilfully so as to project his life and not make it a classical opera. Bringing in the technicalities of stage craft too for detailing a musician’s life, made it a refreshing experience,” says Raghu who has written plays for Akashavani.